Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022 - 42

Robotics & Automation
" Flying Fish " Robot Propels Itself Out of Water and Glides
Through the Air
A bio-inspired bot uses water from the environment to create a gas and launch itself from
the water's surface.
Imperial College London, United Kingdom
A
fish-inspired robot that can travel
26 meters through the air after
takeoff could be used to collect water
samples in hazardous and cluttered environments,
such as during flooding or
when monitoring ocean pollution. Robots
that can transition from water to
air are desirable in these situations but
the launch requires a lot of power,
which has been difficult to achieve in
small robots.
The new system requires just 0.2 grams
of calcium carbide powder in a combustion
chamber. The only moving part is a
small pump that brings in water from the
environment in which the robot sits such
as a lake or ocean. The water and the calcium-carbide
powder then combine in a
reaction chamber, producing a burnable
acetylene gas. As the gas ignites and expands,
it pushes the water out as a jet,
which propels the robot clear of the water
and into a glide of up to 26 m.
The robot was tested in a lab, in a lake,
and in a wave tank, showing that it can
escape from the water's surface even under
relatively rough conditions. While
similar robots often require calm conditions
to leap from the water, the new robot
generates a force 25 times the robot's
weight, giving it a greater chance of
overcoming the waves.
The robot, which weighs 160 grams,
can jump multiple times after refilling its
water tank. This could allow it to float on
water and take samples at multiple points
without additional power, saving energy
over longer distances compared to an
electrically powered robot.
The fish-inspired robot uses water from the environment to create a gas and launch itself from the
water's surface. (Image: Imperial College London)
The team is working to build new vehicles
using advanced materials and
begin field trials of the robot in a range
of environments including monitoring
the oceans around coral reefs and offshore
energy platforms. The low-power,
tether-free robots could be used in
environments that are normally timeand
resource-intensive to monitor such
as after floods or nuclear accidents.
For more information, contact Hayley
Dunning at h.dunning@imperial.ac.uk; +44
(0)20 7594 2412.
Dog Training Methods Teach Robots to Learn New Tricks
A reward system works for a robot the way treats work for a dog.
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
W
42
ith a training technique commonly
used to teach dogs to sit and
stay, computer scientists showed a robot
how to teach itself several new tricks including
stacking blocks. With the method,
the robot (named Spot) was able
to learn in days what typically takes a
month. By using positive reinforcement
- an approach familiar to anyone who's
used treats to change a dog's be havior -
the team dramatically im proved the robot's
skills and did it quickly enough to
make training robots for real-world work
a more feasible enterprise.
Unlike humans and animals that are
born with highly intuitive brains, computers
are blank slates and must learn
everything from scratch. But true learnwww.techbriefs.com
ing
is often accomplished with trial and
error and roboticists are still figuring out
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Tech Briefs Magazine - June 2022

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